What Really Is Light Duty?

What Really Is Light Duty?

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

I’m sure you’ve heard your insurance agent talk about the importance of having a Light Duty or Return to Work policy in place at your company (if your agent hasn’t talked to you about this, you probably should call us at ArboRisk, wink wink), but what does that really mean?

In short, a Light Duty policy is a risk management tool designed to keep an injured employee at work and productive which minimizes the impact of the workplace injury for both the employee and the business. It is a written policy that outlines the responsibilities of the employer and the injured employee after an injury occurs. 

There are many benefits to having a written Light Duty policy which include:

For the Employee

  • Full Income – Even though the injured employee will not be doing tasks that they were hired for, they will retain the same level of pay that they were getting before the injury.
  • Guaranteed Work – The employee does not have to worry if they will have a job after an injury. The Light Duty policy guarantees that they will still have the ability to work their normal hours. 
  • Remaining Part of the Team – The emotional aspect of an injury can definitely take a toll on someone. With a Light Duty policy in place the injured employee remains part of the team and can still feel productive. 
  • Faster Recovery Time – No one wants to be hurt for a long period of time, so if the injured employee follows the recommended restrictions and does not overstress their body during the recovery time, they will heal faster. Doing tasks at work that may not be their favorite activity helps the employee take recovery more seriously to heal faster.

For the Employer

  • Reduced Work Comp Expense – If the employee stays at home and collects their wages from the Work Comp insurance company, that will obviously create a much larger claim and therefore increase the cost of the future Work Comp policies.
  • Gain Back Some Productivity – While the employee may not be performing the exact duties they were doing before the injury, the employer can still get production out of that employee. Every tree care company has a list of things they want to accomplish on a rain day or a snow day. Many times these items just remain on the list that someday they’ll get to. Use the Light Duty policy to get those items taken care of. 
  • Faster Recovery Time – When an injured employee is doing tasks that they normally do not do, they typically will take their healing/recovery more seriously so they can get back out to work doing the job they love. Faster recovery time means a tremendous amount of savings to the employer.


The written policy should also include what happens to the employee if they reject the light or modified duty so that everyone knows what to expect when they are injured. This can be a very important piece if the injured employee is trying to stay at home and just collect from the Work Comp insurance company. 

To make a Light Duty policy defensible in court, I recommend having each employee sign an acknowledgement form stating that they understand what is included in the policy and why it is important for them and the company. 

Make sure that you have a copy of your Light Duty policy and a list of light duty activities in each truck right next to your injury reporting form so that the injured employee can take that policy and list with them to the very first doctor’s appointment. You want to make sure that the very first treating physician knows there is light duty available so they don’t needlessly issue a restriction prohibiting the employee from working at all for a designated period of time. 

If you are struggling on coming up with a list of light duty activities start by thinking about your shop wish list or weather day list. From there start to get creative with what tasks an individual can do for themselves (think online training or volunteering) or for your company (assembling safety manuals, researching safety meeting topics, sharpening chainsaws, etc). Every tree care company has light duty available, you just have to put some conscious thought to it.

Of course, if you would like one-on-one help in creating a Light Duty Policy, please reach out to an ArboRisk team member or sign up directly for the Thrive Safety Package.

Hiring Best Practices

Hiring Best Practices

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

Hiring is one of the most difficult challenges that a business owner faces, especially in the tree care world. Despite the frustrations that hiring presents, you can get great employees on your team by setting up a structure for your hiring process. And as you know, better employees will help your company grow which in turn will attract even more all-star employees.

Here are my four Hiring Best Practices that you can use to assemble the best team possible.


1.Initial Paperwork: Job Description, Application and Background Authorization Forms 

To get the right person for the job, you must be able to define the work that you want them to do. Having written job descriptions for each position is a critical. The job description can be used to promote the position opening as well. An application for employment that includes authorization forms for background checks, including driving record checks is the second part of the initial paperwork that you should have before you hire someone. Checking the applicant’s references and driving record should be one of the first things you do to assess their potential for employment with your company.


2. Interviews – I recommend that the interview process is done in three steps…

 Start with a phone interview with a few predetermined questions. You can find out a lot of great information about the applicant before you spend any more time on them by simple talking to them over the phone first. Two things that you will notice immediately with a phone interview are the punctuality of the applicant and how prepared they are. Do they answer right away or does it go to voicemail? You will be able to tell if they are driving (risky behavior?) or sitting in a quiet area. Ask questions to gauge their devotion to safety and how important it is to them as well as what their past experiences are.

If they pass the initial phone interview, schedule an in-person interview with the hiring manager and one of the potential crew leaders. Having two people in on each interview helps protect your company for any he said/she said arguments that may arise if an individual isn’t hired by your company.

The last interview should be an informal group interview where the applicant gets to meet some of the crew members that they would be working with to learn how their personalities will fit with your current team. The hiring manager and crew leader should not be present during this time so the applicant feels secure to be him or herself. The best way to facilitate this is to have the applicant drive out to a job site for a quick lunch with the crew. It is very obvious who will fit in with your culture and who will not during an informal interview like this.


3. Physical Testing 

After the applicant passes each of the interviews, it is time to see if they have the physical skills and capabilities necessary to perform the job. This can include having them do a skills test for knot tying, chainsaw knowledge or a climbing test. Perhaps you want to see their tree ID skills or plant health care knowledge. A driving test with one of your larger trucks and trailers is also a great idea to complete at this stage of the hiring process. Lastly, have the applicant go into your local Occupational Health Clinic for a pre-employment physical or ergonomic assessment. This is imperative step to make sure you are not hiring a Work Comp claim!

One very important thing to note on pre-employment testing is that no matter what skills you test for, make sure they are directly related to the job they will be performing.


4. Post Hire On-Boarding 

After the applicant has made it through all of the interviews and pre-employment testing, you must make sure the beginning of their employment goes smoothly. This is the time to establish a fantastic start to their career with your organization. Having a proper new employee training and on-boarding procedure is very important in giving that new team member the best attention right away.


If any of this seems overwhelming remember the goal is to hire the best person possible. I’m sure you have hired someone you shouldn’t have just because you needed another body on your team. Looking back at that, it is usually easy to see how you spent a lot more time and money on that person than you would have if you spent your time finding the right fit for your team. I guarantee you won’t regret starting to implement these best practices into your hiring process the next time you need to add someone.

If you are struggling with finding new employees for your company, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today to discuss our Hiring & Recruiting Thrive Package.


Working with a Recruiting Firm

Working with a REcruiting Firm

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

I recently used a recruiting firm to hire our latest team member and let me tell you, I was overwhelmed by the ease of the process and the quality of the candidates that we received. I was so impressed that I felt that I should write this weekly tip about working with a recruiting firm to encourage tree care companies to look in this direction for their next hire. 

Historically, I had been closed off to the idea of using a recruiting firm to find new employees as I figured the recruiting firm would have a hefty price tag for finding top talent for me. However, like many tree service owners, as my business has grown so have my responsibilities and the time that I can spend on any one area of the business has shrunk as I’m pulled in so many directions. I’m sure most of you can relate to the feeling of not having enough time to commit to finding great people for your company, but knowing that it should be a priority of yours. This feeling ultimately led me to contact a recruiting firm to inquire about candidates for a new position that we had just created. I still was skeptical but thought I should give it a chance.

Immediately, and I mean immediately, after getting off the phone with the recruiter, I had 12 resumes of very qualified potential employees. They were 12 individuals of varying backgrounds and experience, probably all very capable of doing the job that I didn’t have to go find. All I had to do was tell the recruiter which ones I wanted to interview and they facilitated the conversation. Now, the rush of emotion that came over me was totally different. In a matter of minutes, I was feeling so confident that we were going to find someone to fit our agency that I realized the power that this form of hiring has. 

We ended up doing an initial interview with 5 of the 12, a second interview with 3 of them and a third interview and personality profile assessment with the final 2. The outcome was hiring a fantastic new team member (Hey Liz!) in a matter of weeks as opposed to the process taking months if I had to do it alone. Not to mention the fact that I can almost guarantee our paths would not have crossed if it were not for the recruiting firm.

Though I’ve only had one experience with working with a recruiter, I did learn a few tips that I want to share with you. 

1. Understand the Value of Your Time – The time that it took for me to hire through the recruiting firm was a fraction of the time that it would have taken me and my team to post the job posting, filter through resumes, set up initial interviews, etc. All of that time that I would have spent on those activities was focused back into our business, where it allowed me to make a bigger positive impact for my team than the fee we had to pay the recruiting firm. In our situation, we paid 25% of her first year salary as the fee for the recruiting firm bringing her to us. At first, that seems like a lot of money, but considering how easy it was and how I could focus on what I needed to for the business, this cost was well worth it.

2. Know What You Want – Because recruiting firms have so many candidates to send your way, knowing exactly what you are looking for in an employee is a must before working with a firm. We created a job posting with required experience included so the recruiting firm knew what not to send our way, which is such a tremendous help when trying to hire, I can’t even explain how much that fact helps. We also had internally discussed the role and how this new person was going to integrate with our team. This allowed us to quickly work through the interview to narrow our focus. 

Within the tree care industry there will be some roles that you need to hire for that will work well with a recruiting firm and others that may be difficult. Discuss that with the recruiter so they understand your entire business and staffing needs. You may have heard people talk about only using recruiters for management positions and that is because those positions can be more difficult to hire for and have a larger risk (both positive and negative) to your business due to their responsibilities. 

3. Have Hiring Process Ready – Over the years of working with tree care companies on our Thrive’s Hiring & Recruiting Package as well as hiring employees myself, I’ve learned that having success in hiring starts with having a well defined hiring process. One that is repeatable and consistent from interview to interview, position to position. The consistency is the only way to adequately compare candidates to each other and give everyone a fair shake. Before engaging a recruiting firm, make sure you know how you want your hiring process to go. Will there be multiple interviews with multiple people on your team? Will you have any background check (driving record) or skills test needed? Think about all of the steps that you will want to have the candidates go through so you can tell the recruiter from the start.

4. Give it a Try – My last tip is to actually just give it a try. Don’t stay closed off to this potential avenue of new employees for your team. There are many different recruiting firms that specialize in the green industry that will have some common experience to help in the tree care space. I also have heard of tree care companies looking at recruiting firms that specialize in trucking, because we all know that an arborist is actually a trucker first, then an arborist. 

If you are struggling with finding new employees for your company, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today to discuss our Hiring & Recruiting Thrive Package.


Employees vs. Independent Contractors

Employees Vs. Independent COntractors for Tree Care Companies 

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

As you look to grow your tree service, you will soon need to begin to add workers to your team. There are a couple ways you are able to go about that; you can hire employees or you can hire independent contractors. 

Here are some tips to consider when deciding the route that ensures the best tax and liability situation for your tree service. 

To begin with, your state may have more stringent requirements on who qualifies as an independent contractor, so the point of this article is to summarize the current federal view of independent contractor status as revised on March 8th, 2021 (Final Rule). Also, it is very important to note at the time of this writing, the Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed a new regulation (Independent Contractor (IC) Proposal) that could supplant the Final Rule. It is likely that the DOL will provide a ruling on the IC Proposal by the end of Quarter 1 in 2023. 

The Final Rule (current regulation as of Jan. 3rd, 2023) has an “economic realities” test that looks at five factors. There are two core factors (control and investment) and three additional factors (integration, skill and permanence) that come into play if the first two factors are not succinct. 

  • Control – The first core factor revolves around the control of the individual. Who is in charge of the individual? When do they show up and when do they leave? Who controls the behaviors of the individual? What contractual controls are in place, insurance requirements, adherence to safety standards, etc.?
  • Investment – The second core factor talks about the investments made by the individual worker for the opportunity to have a profit or loss.  Who pays for or provides equipment to get the job done? Who requires and/or pays for training/employee development?
  • Integration – The first of the three secondary factors is integration. Would the individual’s contribution to the final service/product be considered integral? Would the employer be able to provide the service/product without the independent contractor?
  • Skill – Another additional factor is related to the skill of the individual. Does the individual possess a specialized skill that the employer does not have on their current team or have the ability to train their team members for? 
  • Permanence – This factor focuses on the intended length of the relationship. Will this be a defined time relationship or an indefinite relationship? 

If a worker is considered an employee, there are a few things a business must do. Such as, paying for social security and payroll taxes at the state and federal level. Also, unemployment insurance and workers compensation insurance are required to be in force at the start of the employee’s first work day. At the end of the year, a W-2 must be created for the employee summarizing payroll taxes.

For an independent contractor, a business does not have to do any of the things that are required for an employee. All that has to be done is at the end of the year a 1099 must be created if the independent contractor was paid more than $600 for their work.

Pros to hiring an employee for your tree service:

  • You will have them as your work force and they are there when you need them
  • You can assign permanent tasks and delegate work
  • An employee will be there in your absence
  • You have control over how things get done and what gets done
  • An employee will help to promote your brand and show loyalty to your company

Cons to hiring an employee for your tree service:

  • You may have to provide benefits such as health insurance and disability
  • You will have to pay an employee on a regular basis and keep it consistent
  • You will have to pay payroll taxes and workers compensation coverage
  • You will also have to invest time and money into an employees training and provide them equipment

Pros to hiring an independent contractor for your tree service:

  • You will pay a higher hourly wage, but it will be less expensive in the long run
  • You do not have to pay for training or equipment
  • You do not have to pay for workers compensation coverage or payroll taxes
  • You will have lower liability exposure, whatever the independent contractor does is on them

Cons to hiring an independent contractor for your tree service:

  • You will lose control on how the job is done
  • An independent contractor’s availability will differ and they work on a first come, first served basis
  • An independent contractor is generally not available in an emergency situation
  • Laws can be confusing and just because you feel that they qualify as an independent contractor, they may not
  • You may still be subject to a workers compensation claim or an injury lawsuit
  • You could be sued for their actions from a liability standpoint if they do not meet all the requirements for independent contract status

 As a tree service owner, you must carefully plan how you add workers to your team. If you choose to hire employees or independent contractors, take these tips into consideration to ensure you are doing what works best for your tree service. 

ArboRisk’s Hiring & Recruiting Thrive Package helps employers establish hiring and recruiting principles within their company so they can hire and attract the best possible team members. Reach out to a member of the ArboRisk team today to learn more.

The Three Most Important Words in an Interview: Tell Me More

The three most important words in an interview: Tell me more

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

We all know how much hiring the wrong person hurts your organization, yet most tree care companies are not good at screening potential employees during an interview. The reasoning is pretty obvious, besides feeling the pressure of needing more employees on a daily basis, interviewing can be an arduous task and one that many tree care companies don’t practice and therefore are not very skilled in.

So how do you know what to ask and more importantly, how do you know if the prospective employee is telling you the truth or just what you want to hear? Many times it is difficult to decipher, but the most powerful interview tip that I’ve learned over the years is to use a simple three word phrase…

“Tell me more.”

One of the most common traps an interviewer falls into is talking too much instead of getting the prospective employee to open up. There are many reasons why this happens, but even when the interviewer applies conscious thought on not talking too much during the interview it still doesn’t always prevent it. This is why I love the “tell me more” phrase. It intentionally takes the spotlight from the interviewer and directs it at the interviewee.

This tactic is used similarly to digging deeper when on a sales call. I recently wrote an article about how to get down to the root reason or decision-making motivation when on a sales call by asking “why” three times. To read that article click here. Employ the “tell me more” phrase three times to any important interview question and you’ll gain a tremendous amount of insight about your prospective employee.

Let’s walk through an example…

Interviewer: “I see you have worked at three different tree care companies in the past, tell me more about those experiences.”

The Interviewee will typically answer with a simple statement without much substance like; “the other companies weren’t a fit for me.” The Interviewer should follow up this bland statement with the following.

Interviewer: “Tell me more about why they weren’t a fit for you. Start with the company you currently are working for.”

The Interviewee now has to actually answer the question and you’ll get an initial glimpse into that person’s personality and what they value from an employer. Still, there probably is much more to uncover so the interviewer should try to go deeper. 

Interviewer: “You mentioned that you didn’t see a chance at advancing with your old company, tell me more why that is important to you.”

Now on the third “tell me more” the interviewee has to open up about their feelings on whatever topic you have gone down and the interviewer will receive real information to help in the hiring decision.

I suggest you do this with 3 or 4 questions on every interview so you actually get in-depth answers. From there it should be fairly easy to see which prospective employee will fit with your company culture and which one(s) won’t.

For more help with your interview format and overall hiring process sign up for ArboRisk’s Thrive Hiring and Recruiting Package to work one-on-one with our team of experts.

Tom Dunn

Outlining a Career Path for Your Team

Outlining a Career Path for Your Team

Written by Kevin Martlage

I ran across a Chinese proverb the other day that made me think about the importance of creating a nurturing and supportive work environment for your team. An environment that allows them to not only be successful but helps them intentionally and transparently identify their professional career goals while having the proper support to obtain them. The Chinese Proverb goes like this, 

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” 

You may be asking yourself, what does that have to do with a supportive work environment and specifically why having a career path for your team is important? The answer to that lies within the true meaning, in my opinion, of this proverb and how you can support your team through career development.

As professionals in the tree care industry, we are certainly able to outline and discuss the importance of a healthy green infrastructure and specifically the role a healthy canopy and each tree within that canopy. Similarly, we also know the various stages of how a tree grows and develops over time. Everything from how the seed is planted and germinates below ground with the radicle (primary root) and the plumule emerging from that seed to the seedling stage and sapling stage which leads to the Heartwood, Xylem, Phloem, outer bark, and eventually each individual branch and leaf. Without each of those stages developing in a specific order, a tree would not exist and therefore would not be a sustainable part of the ecosystem and canopy. How a tree is planted, nurtured, and developed over time is important to how that tree ultimately survives and becomes an integral part of the ecosystem which is so very important to all of us. 

With that in mind, I challenge you to think of your organization and your team as a tree that needs to be planted, nurtured, and grown over time. Specifically, think of each of your employees as an integral part of your organizational ‘canopy’ which requires the various ‘trees’, your employees, to be highly functioning and productive as you provide your service to the ‘ecosystem’ of the industry. Without a strong workforce, who is highly motivated, supported, safe, trustworthy, and strategic you will find your overall long term sustainable success to be far more challenging than it should be. A specific and detailed career path can help to attract higher quality employees, keep your current employees engaged, and set your organization apart from the competition as a highly supportive place of business that employees want to work for. 

Career paths can take many different forms regarding what they provide your employees. The number one goal in creating a career path is that it is aligned with the goals of your organization while allowing for the individual and collective growth and development of your team. 


When beginning to develop your employee career path, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • What do your employees want and need from their careers (i.e., goals and desires)?
  • What can the workforce provide to your organization to be successful (i.e., needed skills)?
  • Can the developed career path be easily supported by you and your leadership team?
  • How will it be communicated to the team and kept alive once in place?

Once you have strategically determined the answers above, it is time to develop the career path for your employees and your organization. To do this, I challenge you to think about the developmental stages of a tree once again. The career path should start from the seed being planted (the hiring of a new employee) to the ‘leaves’ that are produced as that employee continues to grow within your organization. 

An example of a career path might be the following:

  • Planting the seed: Day 1
    • New Employee is hired
  • Seed Germination : Week 1
    • Radicle forms (downward) 
      • On-boarding – new hire paperwork
    • Plumule forms (towards surface)
      • On-boarding – organizational background 
      • On-boarding – team introductions
  • Seedling Stage: First 30 days 
    • Seedling forms
      • Specific on-the-job training identified
      • Specific on-the-job training provided
  • Sapling Stage: First 3 months
    • Root development
      • Mentor identified and introduced 
    • Trunk development
      • Bi-weekly mentor/supervisor meetings 
      • On the job training continues
  • Growth Stage: 2-6 months
    • Heartwood development
      • Identify and document career goals 
    • Xylem, Cambium, Phloem
      • Create a career development action plan  
    • Outer Bark development
      • Review progress to date
      • Identify opportunities for additional training
  • Nurturing Stage: 6 months +
    • Watering
      • Conduct quarterly performance meetings
    • Pruning
      • Review career action plan annually and update
      • Provide opportunities for outside certification(s)
      • Provide opportunities for external training
    • Transplanting (as needed)
      • Support internal career advancement
      • Support external career advancement

The development, communication, and support of a detailed career path for your employees is equally important to your organization’s success as your strategic plan, financial maintenance, and client acquisition. In fact, I would argue that it might be even more important as you continue to grow your organization. The proper on boarding, development, support, and nurturing of your employees will enhance your overall team culture while ensuring that your team is firmly planted in your organization for many years to come. The time to develop that career path is now. This will allow you to look back in 20 years as you enjoy the benefits of a healthy team that has helped grow your organization and provide a valuable service to your clients and the industry. 

If you struggle with the hiring process, contact an ArboRisk team member today! Our Thrive Risk Management Hiring & Recruiting Package and team of experts will help you one-on-one to create the career path that works for your organization.